NORMAL — DeMarco Washington and LaCale London still meet up online in an Xbox gaming group the pair started years ago when they were kids.

They met face-to-face Saturday after another game — this one a soggy 33-16 victory by Illinois State over Western Illinois before 8,516 at Hancock Stadium.

As the clock settled on all zeros, the two old friends — and old competitors — bee-lined toward each other and embraced at midfield, a reunion repeated all over the field between former Peoria-area standout players now playing college ball on the the ISU and WIU rosters.

“Sports is a small world sometimes,” said London, who played for Peoria High School and was a Journal Star All-Area honoree as a senior in 2014. “It’s such a blessing to go from high school to college football. Seeing so many guys from around Peoria out there on the field today was amazing. DeMarcus and I are good friends. We’ve known each other since we were playing JFL.”

Washington, who played on special teams units and saw time on the defense Saturday for ISU, was a three-year starter at Notre Dame High School. He was first-team All-Area as a senior and was the Irish MVP.

“It’s always good to see LaCale,” Washington said, grinning. “We go way back, hang out during breaks, we actually started up an Xbox gaming group when we were kids and we still meet in it. It’s fun to play against him, and to play with all those guys on our side from (the Peoria area).”

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The WIU roster included London and former Richwoods linebacker Tre Hendon.

The Redbirds had Washington, plus Christian Uphoff (Washington High), Luke Bennyhoff (Dunlap), Daniel Witherspoon (Washington) and Brad Novak (Elmwood-Brimfield).

London sacked ISU quarterback Brady Davis on third down to snuff a drive with 4:23 left in the third quarter. “My first sack in two years,” London said. “Felt good.”

Uphoff appeared on special teams — he had three kick returns for 49 yards — and as an extra defensive back in passing situations for ISU. Washington stood in at linebacker in passing sets, and for a couple of plays they manned the defense unit together.

“It’s so funny how this worked out,” Uphoff said. “I hated these guys in high school — HATED THEM. We all come here and now we’re teammates.

“I remember every one of those games. Including that (28-24 victory) our Washington guys had over Dunlap — and Bennyhoff (in 2015).

“He was younger, had less experience in that game. I still follow how everyone is doing. The Panthers are No. 1 right now and I hope they go all the way in state.”

Said Bennyhoff, laughing: “Hey, by my senior year we had beaten those guys twice. I was just a sophomore when I played against Uphoff, but I remember that game, and I remember tackling him, too.

“We talk all the time about the Washington-Dunlap rivalry. Even (ISU head coach Brock Spack) was talking about it this week.”

On to bigger things for these guys now.

“Me and DeMarcus talked about those high school days,” Novak said. “But we’ve all turned the page, and we’re teammates.”

Dave Eminian covers the Rivermen and Chiefs for the Journal Star. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.

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